Jane Fonda writes in May’s special edition of Vogue, celebrating women over 50: “It’s important to understand that older women are the fastest-growing demographic in the whole world. It’s time to recognise our value.”
Older women are undervalued in every sector worldwide; in the UK, this is starkly apparent in business, where women make up less than 20 per cent of entrepreneurs.
Just as Vogue celebrates older women in beauty, fashion and every other walk of life, business should celebrate the achievements of women in all sectors. This may well create a pathway for many who have not previously considered entrepreneurship as a career path.
If women started businesses at the same rate as men, there would be more than a million more women-led firms in the UK – so how do we make that option more available?
Women are finding that taking a break from the workplace – often to have children – is a great opportunity to re-evaluate what drives them, leading to a surge in new business ideas coming to market. With Britain being one of the most accessible markets to start a business in the world, this has led to a plethora of new talent in the sector. With this access to talent and ideas, women are realising a new-found freedom to write their own rules when it comes to starting a business.
The Women and Equalities Committee recently found that more than one million people over the age of 50 – mostly women – were out of work not out of choice, but due to discriminatory practices towards older employees. Their demographic is the most underserved by the job market and this is a huge waste of talent.
So, if opportunity doesn’t come knocking, the best option for women is to build the door themselves. It’s a myth that founding a business is a young man’s game. In fact, the average UK business owner is 49, and the average age for starting up is 42. If it’s not too late in life for these overwhelmingly male founders, it’s certainly not too late for women of the same age.
Over-50s particularly benefit from a wide experience and often have great networks that they are increasingly setting to work to deliver for their business.
Many women, of course, choose not to have children, and are finding instead that heading into their 50s gives them an opportunity to consider a second career. They are flexing their muscles, finding many opportunities that were perhaps not available when they started on their first career. This is also leading to a boom in female-led support networks to facilitate them, such as Audrey.
The government should recognise the value entrepreneurship has for bringing women over 50 back into the workforce. This route should be considered a valid one back into work, with a further expansion of start-up loans and support systems around them, specifically to target women over 50.
There should be formal guidance, developed centrally, shared by business groups and local teams across the country that advise women looking to take their steps into entrepreneurship. Once they have started up, an additional level of support should come from local schemes, run by councils, local enterprise partnerships and growth hubs, to deliver skills specifically to this demographic.
Most importantly, women should be supported by powerful programmes that spotlight inspirational women already succeeding in launching and running their own firms, like the f:Entrepreneur campaign, supported by government, trade bodies and entrepreneurs.
The media and business as a whole must now follow in the footsteps of Vogue, and value the growing demographic of women over 50 for the huge contribution they can bring to the economy as a whole, and entrepreneurship is the perfect channel for them to do this.
Michelle Ovens MBE is founder of small business campaigning firm Peak b and director of Small Business Saturday.